Verse > John Greenleaf Whittier > The Poetical Works in Four Volumes
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John Greenleaf Whittier (1807–1892).  The Poetical Works in Four Volumes.  1892.
 
Narrative and Legendary Poems
The Witch of Wenham
 
          The house is still standing in Danvers, Mass., where, it is said, a suspected witch was confined overnight in the attic, which was bolted fast. In the morning when the constable came to take her to Salem for trial she was missing, although the door was still bolted. Her escape was doubtless aided by her friends, but at the time it was attributed to Satanic interference.

I.
ALONG Crane River’s sunny slopes
  Blew warm the winds of May,
And over Naumkeag’s ancient oaks
  The green outgrew the gray.
 
The grass was green on Rial-side,        5
  The early birds at will
Waked up the violet in its dell,
  The wind-flower on its hill.
 
“Where go you, in your Sunday coat,
  Son Andrew, tell me, pray.”        10
“For stripëd perch in Wenham Lake
  I go to fish to-day.”
 
“Unharmed of thee in Wenham Lake
  The mottled perch shall be:
A blue-eyed witch sits on the bank        15
  And weaves her net for thee.
 
“She weaves her golden hair; she sings
  Her spell-song low and faint;
The wickedest witch in Salem jail
  Is to that girl a saint.”        20
 
“Nay, mother, hold thy cruel tongue;
  God knows,” the young man cried,
“He never made a whiter soul
  Than hers by Wenham side.
 
“She tends her mother sick and blind,        25
  And every want supplies;
To her above the blessed Book
  She lends her soft blue eyes.
 
“Her voice is glad with holy songs,
  Her lips are sweet with prayer;        30
Go where you will, in ten miles round
  Is none more good and fair.”
 
“Son Andrew, for the love of God
  And of thy mother, stay!”
She clasped her hands, she wept aloud,        35
  But Andrew rode away.
 
“O reverend sir, my Andrew’s soul
  The Wenham witch has caught;
She holds him with the curlëd gold
  Whereof her snare is wrought.        40
 
“She charms him with her great blue eyes,
  She binds him with her hair;
Oh, break the spell with holy words,
  Unbind him with a prayer!”
 
“Take heart,” the painful preacher said,        45
  “This mischief shall not be;
The witch shall perish in her sins
  And Andrew shall go free.
 
“Our poor Ann Putnam testifies
  She saw her weave a spell,        50
Bare-armed, loose-haired, at full of moon,
  Around a dried-up well.
 
“‘Spring up, O well!’ she softly sang
  The Hebrew’s old refrain
(For Satan uses Bible words),        55
  Till water flowed amain.
 
“And many a goodwife heard her speak
  By Wenham water words
That made the buttercups take wings
  And turn to yellow birds.        60
 
“They say that swarming wild bees seek
  The hive at her command;
And fishes swim to take their food
  From out her dainty hand.
 
“Meek as she sits in meeting-time,        65
  The godly minister
Notes well the spell that doth compel
  The young men’s eyes to her.
 
“The mole upon her dimpled chin
  Is Satan’s seal and sign;        70
Her lips are red with evil bread
  And stain of unblest wine.
 
“For Tituba, my Indian, saith
  At Quasycung she took
The Black Man’s godless sacrament        75
  And signed his dreadful book.
 
“Last night my sore-afflicted child
  Against the young witch cried.
To take her Marshal Herrick rides
  Even now to Wenham side.”        80
 
The marshal in his saddle sat,
  His daughter at his knee;
“I go to fetch that arrant witch,
  Thy fair playmate,” quoth he.
 
“Her spectre walks the parsonage,        85
  And haunts both hall and stair;
They know her by the great blue eyes
  And floating gold of hair.”
 
“They lie, they lie, my father dear!
  No foul old witch is she,        90
But sweet and good and crystal-pure
  As Wenham waters be.”
 
“I tell thee, child, the Lord hath set
  Before us good and ill,
And woe to all whose carnal loves        95
  Oppose His righteous will.
 
“Between Him and the powers of hell
  Choose thou, my child, to-day:
No sparing hand, no pitying eye,
  When God commands to slay!”        100
 
He went his way; the old wives shook
  With fear as he drew nigh;
The children in the dooryards held
  Their breath as he passed by.
 
Too well they knew the gaunt gray horse        105
  The grim witch-hunter rode
The pale Apocalyptic beast
  By grisly Death bestrode.
 
II.
Oh, fair the face of Wenham Lake
  Upon the young girl’s shone,        110
Her tender mouth, her dreaming eyes,
  Her yellow hair outblown.
 
By happy youth and love attuned
  To natural harmonies,
The singing birds, the whispering wind,        115
  She sat beneath the trees.
 
Sat shaping for her bridal dress
  Her mother’s wedding gown,
When lo! the marshal, writ in hand,
  From Alford hill rode down.        120
 
His face was hard with cruel fear,
  He grasped the maiden’s hands:
“Come with me unto Salem town,
  For so the law commands!”
 
“Oh, let me to my mother say        125
  Farewell before I go!”
He closer tied her little hands
  Unto his saddle bow.
 
“Unhand me,” cried she piteously,
  “For thy sweet daughter’s sake.”        130
“I ’ll keep my daughter safe,” he said,
  “From the witch of Wenham Lake.”
 
“Oh, leave me for my mother’s sake,
  She needs my eyes to see.”
“Those eyes, young witch, the crows shall peck        135
  From off the gallows-tree.”
 
He bore her to a farm-house old,
  And up its stairway long,
And closed on her the garret-door
  With iron bolted strong.        140
 
The day died out, the night came down:
  Her evening prayer she said,
While, through the dark, strange faces seemed
  To mock her as she prayed.
 
The present horror deepened all        145
  The fears her childhood knew;
The awe wherewith the air was filled
  With every breath she drew.
 
And could it be, she trembling asked,
  Some secret thought or sin        150
Had shut good angels from her heart
  And let the bad ones in?
 
Had she in some forgotten dream
  Let go her hold on Heaven,
And sold herself unwittingly        155
  To spirits unforgiven?
 
Oh, weird and still the dark hours passed,
  No human sound she heard,
But up and down the chimney stack
  The swallows moaned and stirred.        160
 
And o’er her, with a dread surmise
  Of evil sight and sound,
The blind bats on their leathern wings
  Went wheeling round and round.
 
Low hanging in the midnight sky        165
  Looked in a half-faced moon.
Was it a dream, or did she hear
  Her lover’s whistled tune?
 
She forced the oaken scuttle back;
  A whisper reached her ear:        170
“Slide down the roof to me,” it said,
  “So softly none may hear.”
 
She slid along the sloping roof
  Till from its eaves she hung,
And felt the loosened shingles yield        175
  To which her fingers clung.
 
Below, her lover stretched his hands
  And touched her feet so small;
“Drop down to me, dear heart,” he said,
  “My arms shall break the fall.”        180
 
He set her on his pillion soft,
  Her arms about him twined;
And, noiseless as if velvet-shod,
  They left the house behind.
 
But when they reached the open way,        185
  Full free the rein he cast;
Oh, never through the mirk midnight
  Rode man and maid more fast.
 
Along the wild wood-paths they sped,
  The bridgeless streams they swam;        190
At set of moon they passed the Bass,
  At sunrise Agawam.
 
At high noon on the Merrimac
  The ancient ferryman
Forgot, at times, his idle oars,        195
  So fair a freight to scan.
 
And when from off his grounded boat
  He saw them mount and ride,
“God keep her from the evil eye,
  And harm of witch!” he cried.        200
 
The maiden laughed, as youth will laugh
  At all its fears gone by;
“He does not know,” she whispered low,
  “A little witch am I.”
 
All day he urged his weary horse,        205
  And, in the red sundown,
Drew rein before a friendly door
  In distant Berwick town.
 
A fellow-feeling for the wronged
  The Quaker people felt;        210
And safe beside their kindly hearths
  The hunted maiden dwelt,
 
Until from off its breast the land
  The haunting horror threw,
And hatred, born of ghastly dreams,        215
  To shame and pity grew.
 
Sad were the year’s spring morns, and sad
  Its golden summer day,
But blithe and glad its withered fields,
  And skies of ashen gray;        220
 
For spell and charm had power no more,
  The spectres ceased to roam,
And scattered households knelt again
  Around the hearths of home.
 
And when once more by Beaver Dam        225
  The meadow-lark outsang,
And once again on all the hills
  The early violets sprang,
 
And all the windy pasture slopes
  Lay green within the arms        230
Of creeks that bore the salted sea
  To pleasant inland farms,
 
The smith filed off the chains he forged,
  The jail-bolts backward fell;
And youth and hoary age came forth        235
  Like souls escaped from hell.

  1877.
 
 
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